Reflections on Peru

When you think of Peru you may think of the Andes Mountains, Macchu Picchu, smiling, ruddy-cheeked people in multi-colored garb but maybe not of extraordinary coffee. I didn’t. Then, I tasted coffee from the San Ignacio region, and now I can imagine nothing else when I think of Peru. The cup is bursting with ripe fruit notes and has a rich, creamy body and bittersweet cocoa notes. After singing these praises you can imagine how excited I was to meet the farmers who grew this noteworthy coffee.

Chris Wade and I planned our trip to Peru with the objective of nurturing relationships with the growers from whom we purchased coffee this past crop cycle and auditing the process to ensure the growers are comfortable with the amount they were paid. Getting to the farms gave me a deep appreciation for the complexity of exporting coffee from San Ignacio region. First, a long flight then a short flight then a winding highway through the Andes and finally a steep, bumpy climb to the district of Ricardo Palma. It is a long journey but well worth the time.

The district of Ricardo Palma borders the Santuario Nacional Tabaconas Namballe, a strictly managed wildlife sanctuary. The settlers in the region respect a bumper zone around the sanctuary, which means Ricardo Palma is blanketed by thick jungle (in contrast to the deforested slopes of some developing regions). Because the canopy is so dense in some areas, shade management takes on a new meaning—farmers actually have to trim back shade instead of cultivating it. In addition to health of the forest, I was struck by the good health of the people, the strong infrastructure in the region, and the availability of training and support for growers, who genuinely want to make their product better. We toured several farms and had a “town hall” question and answer meeting.

From time spent with the growers, we felt that the relationship was strong and the growers were inspired to explore ways to improve their coffee quality. There is still some confusion about what transparency means because the farmers are accustomed to selling based on the market, but with each visit transparency and traceability become more and more clear. And, the growers were satisfied with the amount they were paid for last year’s crop. We left feeling thoroughly excited about our commitment to the growers of San Ignacio. The potential of this region gives us so much to look forward to in the years to come!

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